|Risks is the TUC's weekly online bulletin for safety reps and others sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors. Sign up to receive this bulletin every week. Past issues are available. Disclaimer and Privacy Editor: Rory O'Neill of Hazards magazine. Comments to the TUC at firstname.lastname@example.org.|
New evidence confirming a cancer risk to tyre and rubber workers may go ignored because of government safety deregulation and cuts, the union Unite has warned. The union was commented after research published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that workers in the tyre and rubber industry remain at significant risk of developing cancers caused by exposure to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust. Unite, which represents thousands of workers in the industry, says it is unable to properly address the new health concerns as there is no longer an effective body where it can raise such issues. It charges that this “is a result of the Conservative government’s attacks on safety laws.” Unite says the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) previously had a Tyre and Rubber Industries Safety Action Group (TRISAG), with active involvement of both employers and unions, where safety concerns could be raised and dealt with. “However TRISAG has been scrapped as a result of government pressure and no similar body has replaced its work,” Unite says. The new study confirms earlier findings that “N-nitrosamines exposures are associated with mortality from cancers of the bladder, lung, stomach, leukaemia, multiple myeloma, oesophagus, prostate, pancreas and liver.” Unite national officer for the rubber industry Tony Devlin said: “This authoritative study is a stark reminder of the long-term health implications of being exposed to rubber. These dangers are being neglected as a direct result of the government’s cuts which are denying workers an effective voice in the corridors of power.” He added: “The lack of an effective forum to deal with exposure to cancer causing substances is another example of how the government has washed it hands of workplace health and safety. Cancer deaths will not be reduced unless effective measures are taken to cut exposure levels to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust.” Unite noted the study findings were “particularly timely as it comes just before International Workers’ Memorial Day as the theme for this year’s event is dangerous substances – get them out of the workplace.”
Ÿ Unite news release. TUC International Workers’ Memorial Day webpages and workplace cancer guide. ITUC/Hazards cancerhazards blog.
Workers in the UK are putting the longest hours in the EU, according to a new TUC analysis of official figures. The union body found full-time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, nearly two hours more than the EU average – equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year. Britain’s “long-hours culture” is not delivering extra productivity, the TUC said. In similar economies to the UK, workers are much more productive for each hour they work. For example, full-time employees in Germany work 1.8 hours a week less than those in the UK but are 14.6 per cent more productive. And in Denmark – the EU country with the shortest hours – workers put in over four hours less than UK workers, but productivity in Denmark is 23.5 per cent higher. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s long hours culture is nothing to be proud of. It’s robbing workers of a decent home life and time with their loved ones. Overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal.” She added: “It’s time for a change. Other countries have shown that reducing working hours isn’t only good for workers, it can boost productivity. As new technology changes our economy, the benefits should be shared by working people. That means shorter hours, more time with family and friends, and decent pay for everyone.” The TUC backs moves to reduce working time, including a shift towards a typical four day week.
The lack of safe staffing levels on wards and in ambulances is putting patients and staff at risk, UNISON’s health conference has heard. Delegates were told understaffing was causing stress and anxiety, which in turn was leading to people leaving their jobs. James Anthony of the union’s health service group executive said that nurses in hospitals and community settings must be prepared to stand together “and where necessary take industrial action to defend patient care and safe staffing.” He added: “We know from the evidence that when nursing numbers are low, care is poor, and patient harm occurs. And we know that our members who work in nursing are the ones bearing the strain, working over the end of their shifts and not getting their breaks.” Linda Hobson, of UNISON’s nursing and midwifery occupational group, said that no-one entering the NHS expected it to be a 9-5 job. “But year after year staff are working above and beyond to deliver the best care for their patients – at a personal cost. Safe and effective staffing levels not only improve patient outcomes but improve the working conditions for staff.” Peter Steventon, of the ambulance occupational group, told delegates that being a paramedic is no longer regarded as a job for life, but a “highly stressed job leading to mental health and other issues”. As a result, individuals would likely leave within five years. The delegates supported a call for UNISON to maintain pressure for legislation to guarantee safe staffing levels in the health service.
Nearly a quarter of teachers (24 per cent) are experiencing physical violence from pupils at least once a week, the teaching union NASUWT has revealed. A shocking 4 per cent of teachers responding to the union’s survey stated they are attacked on a daily basis. The survey of almost 5,000 teachers found that nearly nine in ten (89 per cent) have suffered physical or verbal abuse from pupils over the last 12 months. A similar proportion (86 per cent) of teachers have been sworn at, while more than four in ten (42 per cent) have been verbally threatened. The survey found nearly a third (29 per cent) of teachers have been hit, punched or kicked, and 39 per cent have been shoved or barged, 7 per cent spat at, and 3 per cent head-butted. Nearly half (46 per cent) experienced anxiety, depression or stress, and more than eight in ten (81 per cent) say the abuse from pupils has affected their morale and enthusiasm for their job. The physical and verbal abuse from pupils has driven over half (52 per cent) of teachers to seriously consider leaving the profession or they are planning to leave teaching shortly. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “No teacher should ever have to go to work with the expectation of being verbally or physically abused, but it is clear from this survey that for too many teachers this is the day-to-day reality. Pupil indiscipline is now second only to workload in teachers’ concern about their job and is a contributory factor to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. It is simply unacceptable that employers are failing in their legal duty of care to provide a safe working environment.” She added: “The school system is riven with poor and unacceptable employment practices that are putting teachers at risk and ultimately driving them out of the profession. Teachers provide one of the most important public services and they deserve better.”
“Incredible” assessment levels are creating a “climate of fear” that is driving teachers to medication, the new president of teachers’ union NASUWT has said. Dave Kitchen said in “too many schools” accountability measures were “being used as a tool to control teachers.” He told the union’s conference: “Unfortunately what we are witnessing is teachers too fearful to speak out. We are seeing increases in teachers suffering from excessive stress and taking medication, teachers leaving the profession because they cannot take any more or are no longer finding teaching affordable.” The union leader warned: “Public education is increasingly seen as the next major global market to be exploited by private capital at the expense of the pupils. Hence the overuse of performance tables in order to attract future consumers. Members need to come together, as a union, if they are to win their fight, our fight for an education system which fulfils the aims and aspirations of the young and provides a valuable worthwhile job for teachers.”
Four out of 10 teachers say they will longer be working in education in five years’ time, a union survey has found. The National Education Union (NEU) said a further haemorrhage of staff could result from the “culture of fear” in schools. NEU’s State of Education survey of 8,600 members found most of those leaving blamed “huge workloads and excessive accountability.” NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The government is doing a far better job of driving teachers out of the profession than they are solving the issue of excessive workload.” He said that the main problem was one of excessive accountability, adding: “So long as the main drivers of a performance-based system are still in place, schools will continue to be in the grip of fear, over-regulation and a lack of trust.” Writing in the Morning Star, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers: Government needs to stop de-professionalising, demoralising and burning teachers out. We are losing highly committed and highly qualified staff and children are losing out on the education they need.” Recruitment targets for teachers have been missed in England for five years in a row.
A decision by Bristol council to close the vast majority of public conveniences in the city, is denying workers access to toilets and has forced some to quit their jobs, the union Unite has warned. Unite regional officer Malcolm Green recently provided a written statement to Bristol council’s communities scrutiny commission to discuss the contentious community toilet scheme, detailing Unite’s concerns. In place of public toilets, the Bristol council scheme asks private businesses including pubs, cafes and shops to provide non-customers access to their toilets. However, Unite has found that this scheme is not effective for key workers who keep the city operating such as bus drivers, street cleaners and refuse collectors. Unite members report that the scheme is either not operating in areas where they need to use the facilities or they have been asked not to use the facilities due to their work clothes. According to Unite, bus drivers in the city are now frequently required to work a five and half hour shift without access to a toilet during that time. Unite is now calling on the council to take proper action to ensure that all companies providing services in the city including bus operators and waste management service are ensuring that their workers experience “toilet dignity.” It warns the lack of toilet provision and being forced to ‘hold on’ can have serious health consequences for workers. Malcolm Green said: “Bristol’s toilet scheme is failing workers who keep the city of Bristol clean and moving. The council needs to take firm leadership to ensure these workers are not being routinely denied toilet dignity.” He added: “The lack of toilet provision has resulted in workers with medical conditions being forced to quit their jobs. Workers report being humiliated when they are asked not to use the so-called community toilets due to their work clothes. In the 21st century it is not too much to ensure that workers are not denied toilet dignity at work.”
Offshore unions have again called for a full independent public inquiry into energy industry helicopter safety. Unite and RMT both backed a motion at the STUC conference that noted “such an inquiry is essential, due to the ongoing decline in offshore workers’ confidence in the safety of offshore helicopter operations.” RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is nothing short of a scandal that the Scottish and UK governments are opposing the public inquiry that is clearly needed to tackle the decline we have seen over the last 10 years in offshore workers’ confidence in the safety of the helicopter transport they are required to travel in.” He added: “Both RMT and Unite support an inquiry, which would cover commercial pressures brought on operators by oil and gas companies and we now have a significant body of cross-party support, including SNP MPs in Westminster, who have added their voices to this important campaign for a just response to the deaths, trauma and growing safety fears of North Sea oil and gas workers and their families.”
The prison officers’ union POA has said it is ‘time for action’ on jail violence and under-staffing after a prison officer had his throat cut by an inmate at HMP Nottingham. The officer, who needed 17 stitches after the 14 April attack, has since been discharged from hospital. POA said it was seeking urgent discussions with ministers, adding it is time to “act decisively as the violence in prisons has spiralled out of control.” A statement from the union said: “The health and safety of our members and indeed those in our care is paramount. Government ministers must now act swiftly before we are talking about a death of a serving prison officer. The violence in our jails as identified by this horrendous attack is at epidemic level and the union will not stand by and allow such attacks on our members.” The statement added: “The POA will not allow health and safety legislation to be ignored and we will do everything in our power to hold ministers and employers responsible and accountable where the health and safety of our members has not been complied with as per the legislation.” Nottinghamshire Police said a 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of inflicting grievous bodily harm. The Ministry of Justice said the case was being treated as a serious criminal offence and that it had recently increased the maximum sentence for attacks on emergency service workers, including prison officers.
A member of the union Community who was left alone to supervise a high-risk prisoner has received a six-figure compensation payment after he was subjected to a sustained attack. The worker sustained injuries to his head and body as a result of the attack. A union-backed claim was brought against the employer on the basis that staffing levels were too low. The employer admitted liability early in the case. In addition to his physical injuries, the Community member developed a severe psychiatric reaction, which stopped him returning to his former role. The union says he was “effectively demoted” because his new role was on a lower rate of pay. Although liability was admitted, there was some dispute over the extent of the member’s injuries, and court proceedings had to be commenced to ensure that the action started within the time limit to submit a claim. Shortly before trial, discussions were held with the defendant’s representatives and a settlement was finally reached. The six-figure payout, agreed over three years after the incident, covered pain and suffering and loss of earnings. Community head of services David Fiddler said: “Sometimes cases like this can take a long time. Community makes sure our members get support all the way through any claim.”
A fall of nearly 60 per cent in the number of victims receiving payments from the criminal injuries compensation scheme, and an almost halving of the amount paid out since the Conservative government came to power, have been condemned by an alliance of charities. Figures obtained from parliamentary questions show that in 2010-11, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency (CICA) awarded £280m to 39,706 people who were hurt in attacks; six years later, in 2017-18, only 16,781 victims received £154m in compensation. The charities Victim Support, Liberty, Barnardo’s and Rape Crisis have all called for an increase in the agency’s budget and criticised changes in eligibility introduced in 2012. The Ministry of Justice is consulting on reforming the scheme. According to Victim Support, changes in the eligibility criteria after 2012 led to fewer payouts and reductions in sums awarded. The changes were opposed strongly by unions, who warned victims of violence at work would lose out. Last year, research by the retail union Usdaw confirmed the number of retail workers receiving criminal injury compensation after a violent crime at work has almost halved since the government introduced cost-cutting changes took effect (Risks 835). In a joint statement, Victim Support, Liberty, Barnardo’s and Rape Crisis said: “The government’s welcome review of the compensation scheme presents a golden opportunity to make it truly fit for purpose. If necessary, the government must increase the budget for CICA so that victims get the compensation they rightly deserve.”
Ÿ The Guardian.
A new Harvard University study suggests that the increasingly popular workplace wellness programmes yield unimpressive results and don’t leave workers in better health. The authors say their findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, raise questions about the effectiveness of these programmes offered by 80 per cent of large US employers via an $8 billion workplace wellness industry. The analysis, the first peer-reviewed, large-scale, multisite randomised controlled trial of a workplace wellness programme, shows that people who worked at sites offering the programme exhibited notably higher rates of some healthy behaviours, but no significant differences in other behaviours compared to the control group. The programme had no significant effects on outcomes including 27 self-reported health and behavioural measures such as employees’ overall health, sleep quality and food choices; 10 clinical markers of health; 38 measures tracking spending and utilisation for doctor’s visits, medical tests, procedures and prescription drugs; and three employment outcomes - absenteeism, job tenure and job performance. The Harvard research is not the only recent study to cast doubt on the evidence-base for and effectiveness of wellness programmes. ‘Not just free fruit: Wellbeing at work’, a December 2018 report from the British Safety Council, said wellbeing initiatives at work were ‘comprised’ by ‘incoherent’ practices (Risks 879). And a July 2018 study from RAND Europe commissioned by Public Health England warned that well-being initiatives should not substitute for better management of work (Risks 862). This came five years after the TUC said in order to improve well-being, the first step must be to look at the management of the workplace, how work is organised and how workers are supported.
Ÿ Harvard University news release. Zirui Song and Katherine Baicker. Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes: A Randomized Clinical Trial, Journal of the American Medical Association, volume 321, number 15, pages 1491-1501, 2019. Kaiser Health News.
The longer your working week, the more likely you are to be injured or killed on the job, a new study has found. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at reported work-related injury figures in the US mining industry between 1983 and 2015, together with production, employment levels and working hours data. US employers in the mining industry are required to report work-related injuries and illnesses to the government mines safety regulator MSHA where they ‘require medical treatment or results in death or loss of consciousness or inability to perform all job duties on any workday after the injury or temporary assignment to other duties or transfer to another job’. The study authors concluded: “In this study, we found that factors associated with change, lack of routine, small mine operations and being new at the mine were associated with injuries occurring during long working hours relative to injuries occurring through the first 8 hours. Furthermore, incidents occurring during long working hours were more likely to result in a death or incidents involving multiple injured workers. This finding is disturbing given that US miners continue to work extended shifts with an average in excess of 47 hours per week, unlike the general US workforce where average work hours have declined to 38.5 hours per week. In this study, we observed a steady annual increase in the proportion of injuries occurring during long working hours that mirrors a trend reported internationally as more mining operations move towards longer shifts.” In a study last year, Kirsten Almberg and Robert Cohen, co-authors of this study, linked a large scale outbreak of rapid onset black lung disease in relatively young miners to longer working hours. Almberg noted: “Due to changes in mining practices over time, mines today may produce higher levels of crystalline silica, which is more damaging to the lungs than coal dust, during coal extraction. And miners appear to be working longer hours and more days per week, leaving less time for their lungs to clear the dust that has been inhaled.”
Ÿ Lee S Friedman, Kirsten S Almberg and Robert A Cohen. Injuries associated with long working hours among employees in the US mining industry: risk factors and adverse outcomes, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, published Online First, 12 April 2019. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105558
The International Workers’ Memorial Day weekend has arrived, with hundreds of events scheduled across the UK and tens and thousands across the globe around the 28 April event. It’s not too late to join an event near you – check out the TUC website for details.
Ÿ TUC 2019 Workers’ Memorial Day events page and asbestos, diesel exhaust and workplace cancers guides. Hazards Campaign 28 April resources page.
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh this month gave another short-term extension to the Bangladesh Accord, scheduling the next hearing to determine the groundbreaking safety programme’s fate on 19 May 2019. Global unions UNI and IndustriALL, two signatories of the Accord introduced in the wake of the deadly Rana Plaza garment factory collapse five years ago, have issued a statement calling for a resolution that protects garment workers in the country. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Jenny Holdcroft said: “It is good that the Court has decided to allow more time for negotiations between the Accord and the BGMEA [the Bangladesh garment industry group] and the government. The Accord cannot cease its operations without a resolution that protects garment workers in Bangladesh now and into the future.” Mathias Bolton, the head of UNI Commerce, said: “The Bangladesh Accord has saved lives and has helped make the country’s garment industry more sustainable. We welcome the one month extension but the facts remain the Accord must be allowed to continue operations in the country until the government is ready to effectively take over the training, inspection, and remediation functions of the Accord. Currently, the government clearly does not have that capacity.” A recent study using the government’s own data found a “shocking unreadiness” by Bangladeshi regulators to oversee the ready-made garment industry, the country’s largest economic sector. The government of Bangladesh, which has been lobbied strongly by BGMEA, wants to end the Accord and throw its international team of safety inspectors out of the country. The Accord has overseen improvements including the installation of fire doors, sprinkler systems and the upgrading of electric wiring in nearly 1,700 factories that produce clothing for some of the world’s largest brands.
Some 100 Chinese workers suffering from an often fatal work-related disease have signed a petition demanding the release of three prominent activists in southern China amid a crackdown on labour activism. Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, editors of a labour rights news site that reported on the workers’ cases, were arrested last month for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” - a broad charge used by Chinese authorities to target activists and dissidents. Yang Zhengjun, editor-in-chief of the iLabour news site, has been in police detention since January. “They're not guilty - they have caring hearts and because of that they face pressure from the government,” said Gu Fuxiang, one of the workers who signed the petition. Hundreds of migrant workers, mainly from central Hunan province, protested last year for compensation in Shenzhen after contracting silicosis, a deadly dust disease that scars the lungs, when they helped transform the southern city from a fishing village into one of China's biggest tech hubs (Risks 877). When workers were ignored by the government and pressured to stop protesting, the three labour activists were there for support, said Gu. Their petition, which is posted online, urges the Shenzhen police to release the three labour activists and is addressed to the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions. “The iLabour editors care and support for us, and their kindness and righteousness is genuine,” noted the letter. “I really sympathise with them, I don't understand why they were arrested for helping us,” said Wang Haijun, another worker who has late-stage silicosis. Last week, the workers attempted to travel to Shenzhen by train to hand the letter to authorities but were stopped at train stations and prevented from boarding.
The Samsung corporate star chamber has flouted laws and placed advocates for occupational disease victims under surveillance, independent daily Kyunghyang reported on 18 April, citing court records. Two confidential Samsung documents surfaced during a criminal hearing on 16 April for 32 Samsung Electronics Co Ltd directors and executive indicted on charges related to illegal union-busting, confirming long-held beliefs that Samsung had placed the advocacy group SHARPS under illicit surveillance. The organisation was instrumental in forcing the multinational to fund a compensation system for victims of occupational cancer and other diseases caused by toxic exposures in Samsung plants. The two records were among a trove of documents the government seized two years ago from the Future Strategy Office of the Samsung Business Group, the secretive office of 200 staff handpicked and used by the conglomerate’s founding Lee family to perpetuate its control of 63 affiliates. In one document, the office made a list of juyo inmul, or “persons of interest,” including Hwang Sang-ki - a SHARPS founder and father of a high profile victim of Samsung’s blood cancer cluster - and Lee Jong-ran, SHARPS’ labour attorney. The document contained private information, including photos of the two activists, their national ID numbers, and their descriptions and those of their personal friends, according to Kyunghyang, which reviewed the documents. “As the cluster issue gained publicity,” Kyunghyang quoted a prosecution document as saying, “[the Future Strategy Office] watched not only employees at risk of unionisation, but also SHARPS.” SHARPS is considering what legal action it should take based on the new revelations.
Every day, an average of 137 workers in the United States lose their lives to diseases and illnesses caused by on-the-job exposures to hazards like silica dust, asbestos and other hazardous chemicals. That means every year, roughly 50,000 people die in the US from occupational illnesses, and the toll is likely to be much higher because of underreporting and incomplete statistics. A new advocacy guide from the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) aims to change that by assisting workers who are seeking to take action to eliminate or reduce their exposure to hazardous substances. “Inadequately regulated chemical hazards are at their deadliest in the workplace,” said Katie Tracy, CPR policy analyst and co-author of the guide. “People exposed to toxics at work tend to encounter dangerous substances more frequently, for longer durations, and at higher levels than the public at large. Too often their employers fail in their obligation to protect them, so we’ve put this guide together to share resources and strategies workers can use to secure a safe workplace.” According to CPR’s ‘Chemical detox for the workplace: A guide to securing a nontoxic work environment’, workers are at substantial risk across dozens of sectors including agriculture, domestic cleaning, hair and nail salons, home repairs, building construction, and chemical manufacturing. CPR produced the advocacy guide to help workers and their representatives, noting advocates move faster than regulators in securing a safer and healthier work environment. The guide is intended to assist workers and advocates with finding information on chemical hazards and utilising that information to achieve a nontoxic workplace.
Ÿ CPR news release and report, Chemical detox for the workplace: A guide to securing a nontoxic work environment, CPR, April 2019.
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